Acidity, tannin, sweetness and body. These are words used for experienced wine collectors when tasting wine. But where does one one start to appreciate the drink with little knowledge? Every peek at a wine list for the average Joe is an interesting exercise in social psychology. There are no descriptions and no text. Panic inevitably sets in when the wine you’re looking for is not on the list. What you see is just a line, a producer and a price.
Here at ATLAS, we pride ourselves on offering a casual dining experience despite the grandeur that our unique space accords. Because every chance you get to luxuriate and dine is supposed to be fun, not a tortured trip through global vineyards.
While taste is inevitably so varied, there are a couple of basic guiding principles every wine enthusiasts should pay attention to when encountering a list as long as the dictionary. We put together a simple guide with our head sommelier Mason Ng for greater drinking pleasure.
Wine lists are usually categorised in 3 different aspects on most restaurant wine lists:
By Region — Geographical Location By Price By Names — Producer By Names — Grape Varieties
(1) By Region — Geographical Location
Every bottle is a translation of the wine maker’s interpretation of the geographical location and terroir. In wine talk, this refers to a particular region’s climate, soil and terrain. Climates affect the sugar levels in wine grapes. Warmer climates generate higher sugar levels while cooler climate generate low sugar levels and hence retain more acidity. Take for instance Mornington Peninsula in Australia, a region that enjoys year long sunshine and greater heat in comparison to Gevrey Chambertin in Burgundy. While both regions produce the popular Pinot Noir, the version from Gevrey Chambertin comes with greater natural acidity because of the cooler climate and soil composition. While both are equally enjoyable, for those who prefer a softer more elegant expression of the Pinot Noir, we recommend the Burgundy, while those who prefer a more intense, fruit forward styled Pinot Noir could opt for the Australian. (both available at ATLAS)
(2) By Price
Just like anything else in the supermarket, prices of wines are usually determined by laws of demand and supply. A more expensive wine might indicate an older vintage or one in limited edition. Knowing what boundaries you have on prices can really help. Once you’ve decided how much you’re willing to spend, the in house sommelier can help narrow down the range. A good tip from Ng is to indicate price range preferences with your fingers when communicating with the sommelier. This form of communication allows you to remain discreet about price while creating the necessary framework for the selection process. Here at ATLAS, our sommeliers and service crew are trained to pick up subtle cues from our guests to ensure you always feel at ease with your order at any price point.
If you decide to open a bottle and handed over a glass to taste, trust in your sommelier as they are trained to pick up flaws, ensuring a wine of immaculate condition is served.
(3) By Name — Producer
Although this part of the list might only make sense to seasoned wine drinkers, it is useful to note that producer labels on wine lists and bottle labels provide significant information about the origin of the wine and who is responsible for the production of it. In the United States for instance, winemakers have become particularly interested in blending grape varieties. 75% of the grapes must be of the stated variety so that it enough to dominate the wine’s character.
(4) By Name — Grape Variety
A wine primarily made from a single variety of grape is known as the varietal wine. Some iconic examples of grape varieties commonly used in varietal wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot.
If there is a key takeaway from this article, it is the fact that ultimately it is your perception that makes it special. At the end of the day, there is only one thing that matters, is it delicious? Do you like what you’re tasting? Stay tuned to the upcoming posts in the months to come where we give you the low-down on how professional sommeliers taste wine.